cover image Festival and Game of the Worlds

Festival and Game of the Worlds

César Aira, trans. from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3730-7

Argentinian writer Aira (Fulgentius) explores themes of obsession and interpretation in this nimble diptych of novellas. In “Festival,” enigmatic Belgian filmmaker Alex Steryx travels abroad to an unnamed town for a film festival. As the guest of honor, he attends press junkets, participates in panel discussions, and oversees a retrospective of his science fiction films. Steryx has surprised his handlers, though, by bringing along his viperous nonagenarian mother, who is rude to hangers-on including Perla Sobietsky, an ambitious writer who hopes to solve the puzzle of Steryx’s perplexing oeuvre. In the meantime, the director’s mother turns every event and fancy banquet into a farce. Set far in the future, “Game of the Words” portrays an immersive video game in which players explore distant worlds and exterminate their inhabitants. In the real world, where all activity proceeds according to the faultless Intelligent Systems and family life is mediated by all-knowing Programmers, one worried parent becomes convinced that the video game is a scheme to reintroduce the long-eradicated idea of God. “A dream that had become reality” is Aira’s cherished subject, and he explores it in the depictions of Steryx’s all-consuming films and of a world stranger than a video game. Aira’s fans will lap this up. (June)